By Deepak Chopra
A heartfelt person may genuinely want to be compassionate. But how do you know if you are? Compassion is modest and usually silent. It's a quality others see in you, not one that you claim for yourself. The Buddha became known as the Compassionate One; he didn't call himself that.
Is compassion known by what it does? In some ways, yes. It's a sign of compassion if you are caring towards others and unselfish about your own needs. It shows compassion to sympathise with someone else's suffering and to help them get out of their distress and pain.
But in the Indian spiritual tradition, compassion is not based on actions, however kind, or on feelings, however sympathetic. Compassion is a deeper quality of consciousness. It is related to Jesus's words, "For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?"
In the rising economies of South Asia — and for a long time in the developed West — the question seems pointless. Gaining the whole world would bring untold power and wealth. Losing yourself is invisible and may not be real. In any case, you can cry all the way to the bank.
Compassion is a force that runs counter to selfishness, materialism, anda total focus on external rewards. This is a recipe for frustration and failure in modern times. For compassion to be real, it must be valuable; it must make life better and increase personal happiness. How can those benefits exist when the word compassion means, "to suffer with?"
Compassion brings its benefits as part of expanded consciousness. It's not an isolated quality. When you expand your awareness, compassion becomes a living reality; it is one aspect of leaving ego behind and living from a higher sense of self. Through meditation, a person finds a deeper level of the mind, and this experience changes pathways in the brain. Therefore, the more you follow the path of awareness, the more your brain is trained to allow compassionate actions and feelings to emerge.
The impulse to be sympathetic and kind exists in everyone. We all do compassionate things, and when we do, we feel better than when we act selfishly. When incidental impulses of compassion come and go, you can't truly live the entire quality of compassion. It emerges only after you have experienced a self that doesn't make the selfish, insecure demands of the ego. In other words, compassion is an evolved state, and when you decide that you want to evolve personally, the arrival of compassion is assured. Only the steps to reach it take time and patience.
What are those steps? They include the following:
Yoga: In the great wisdom tradition of India, yoga played an important role in the cultivation of self-awareness. As J Krishnamurti once said, "Self-awareness is the highest intelligence." There isa deep truth in this understanding, which is that the self of the individual is the self of the universe — the ground of your being is the ground of all being. Through yoga we enliven authentic compassion, which gives birth to love and ultimately results in healing.
It is interesting that the word healing is related to the word wholeness or the word holy. Healing ultimately is a return of the memory of wholeness. T S Eliot said in one of his poems, "We shall not cease from exploration and at the end of our exploring we will arrive at the place we started from and know the place for the first time." This return to wholeness allows us to be holy and healed.
Other steps include:
Do the right thing. Avoid doing what you know is wrong.
Follow the golden rule: Treat other people the way you want to be treated.
Don't act on impulses of anger.
Take responsibility for your own emotions — don't blame others.
Be kind when you can.
Respect the point of view of other people. Don't constantly defend your own.
See yourself as part of the human family, and invite everyone to be part of the same family.
Above all, practise meditation and other spiritual practices like prayer and self-reflection. Your greatest aim should be the expansion of your awareness.
Compassion would be the ideal basis for an entire society, as Jesus and the Buddha both envisioned. But for such a society to arise, it must be born in the heart of the individual. Compassion flourishes one person at a time. You are just one unit of consciousness in the world, but no one is more important than you at your spiritual core — one unit multiplied many times over can bring about a transformed world.
The writer is author of more than 75 books translated into over 35 languages. He is founder and chairman of The Chopra Foundation. The article was commissioned for Compassion Day.
[Painting by Phyllis Coniglio]